Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I have to admit, Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday. Any holiday relying on so much red and pink and frilliness is bound to get on my nerves. But there's also something kind of sweet about it. It's a friendly reminder to show our love and compassion, not just for boyfriends and girlfriends and crushes and the like, but also towards family and friends, and hopefully beyond February 14th.

Love graffiti in Heraklion, Crete- thanks boyfriend!

After all, there's more than one type of love. The way I feel about my Mom is quite different from the way I feel about the person I am with, though I love them both very much. The medievals had it right- they had quite a few different words for different types of love, defined by Saint Augustine, Andreus Capellanus and later C.S. Lewis. More details can be found in this awesome book, but here's a few brief definitions:

  • Amor: courtly love- usually between two people who really shouldn't be together; love is in some way unattainable (think Lancelot and Guinevere- but seriously, who cheats with the queen's wife?). This kind of love is a paradox, as it is forbidden and passionate and yet at the same time noble and "morally elevating" (where they came up with this stuff, I have no clue. But women used to tweeze back their hair to make their foreheads appear larger in those days, so I don't ask questions.) 
  • Caritas- Latin for charity; this is the love of God that St Augustine discusses in City of God. It was always my favorite. It's not rooted in emotion or passion, but in altruism, friendship and virtue. It is "the motion of the soul towards God for His sake and towards one's self and one's fellow man for the sake of God" (source here
  • Cupiditas: sensual, desirous love (Romeo and Juliet, I'm looking at you) It is selfish (and it kind of sucks.) It is a quest to satisfy one's natural urges, a love of the world and worldly things. It's quite the opposite of Caritas. 
  • Affectio: the affection or fondness a spouse feels for their husband or wife, the appropriate bond between two lovers in an appropriate marriage (none of this medieval ashleymadison.com amor stuff.) 

There are probably a couple more medieval loves that I've missed, but you get the idea. Love is dynamic, so having multiple words for it kind of makes sense.

Anyways, the point of this post was originally to teach the boyfriend about Saint Valentine, but it appears that (a) there are many Saint Valentines and (b) their lives and works have already been summarized very nicely here. For example,  one legend has Saint Valentine secretly wedding soldiers to their loves, which was apparently against the law at the time, while another tells of his ending of a quarrel between two lovers by approaching them with a rose and counseling them briefly. The couple later came to him to bless their marriage.

source here
Any way you cut it, Valentine's Day is a pretty commercial holiday, but that doesn't mean we can't make something good out of it. Beyond thoughtful acts or a a friendly reminder to someone you care about that they're loved, a little compassion really does go a long way.

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